Mala for Martin

dear Martin it's almost April again / Wasn't that you I saw in the garden
Passing the roses still trapped in their jackets / Winter-stripped to thorns
& the robins come back Invisible / but their voices clear by the old cedars
& not yet the chick-chick of the blackbirds / but a little girl's dark jacket's shoulders bright red

In that scrappy garden by the ramshackle back lots / on Hudson Where my grandmother fled  the famine
Long after Irish John & Akan Caesar / hanged side by side for conspiracy
near the Collect Pond & left to rot / for example But in time to see
a black sailor murdered by Irishmen at the end / of Leroy Street Where I live

Wasn't that you Overlooking the filth / for the grace of my beloved island
Grace like that girl's Who knows your name / Do they still sing My country 'tis of thee
Land where my children died but that's not / how it's supposed to go is it
Did you see her Cheeks flushed Wolfing something sweet / after school Making new paths in the garden

Kicking the two big black rocks by the roses / Saying something I couldn't understand at first
until I heard the dull plastic echo / Look They're fake she said Look

Last night I dreamed of uniforms / hung to dry on a roof overlooking a river
& a bridge across Crowded with people in soft clothes / linking arms & singing
& a red beam Whose From the sky Washing over / the walkers Tracking their dances
Leaving a red dot on a shoulder A raised hand / A chest A lip A cheek

& a raptor-bird on a mission Flying / as wanderless as a drone
Assigned to Recon Team Zorro Assembling / the necessary list of names
And it came to pass There went out a decree / That all the world should be registered
& divided into Hostiles & Friendlies / Every one to his own city

& on the list the names of the people / the Dutch called wilden & the British wilde
& Caesar's with his white lover Peggy Kerry's / & Metacomet's Betrayed by his brothers
& Spotted Elk's whose assassins wore Medals of Honor / & the names of Anonymous in her thousands
& one was the name of the river itself / & one was Malcolm's & one was yours

You're a practical man Did somebody say it / like that And you have a practical vision
And you love your people and you love your country / Here let me light that for you Have a seat
Be a shame for a man like you Spend his life / pissing away his potential in the background
Let's think about this strategically I know / I don't need to explain that to a man like you

who has a vision A man like him packs a suitcase / Magic Shave Salems Krishna's flute
Now I mean no disrespect but a man like him knows / he can't win Through no fault of mine or yours
Did you dream those conversations just out of your hearing / We didn't make this world did we
But we live in this world and we fight to win in it / If he can't win what's his function

except as a tool for let's call them our enemies / We're clear about who our enemies are aren't we
Is that maybe a little bit of his privilege talking / when he starts in about boycott and the promised land

and not about the shitstorm his dreaming / brings down on you Excuse my French
Reel to reel tape hissing in a closet / Your listening turned elsewhere Let's not pretend
that's not where this is headed I've seen it / over there The same war It's like he missed the day
when the man upstairs said 'This is how it goes here' / but you didn't miss that day did you

 You couldn't afford to miss it When the man said / 'Those with me live like this'
'Those with me live' That's what we both want / isn't it Someone to think practically
Someone to make the difficult choices / Let's face it He couldn't organize vampires for a bloodbath
Your people deserve a shepherd who knows / how the wolf works It's like he missed that day

when the man upstairs said 'I could kill ten / of your children Or I could kill ten thousand'
and a man like you didn't miss that day / A man like you knows how to choose

So let's discuss choices Let's discuss the removal / of the obstacles between you and your mission
Honey open that window behind our guest will you / It's getting warm in here isn't it
Well a pleasure doing business with you / Oh I couldn't agree with you more
This isn't only about black and white is it / if the danger's red and the antidote's green

An envelope yes but please know that's a token / from the brotherhood whose sacrifice can never be mentioned
No No need to kiss him It's not like that anymore / Just get him out on the balcony and step away

If it were possible to lift the children / from the delta ditches where the soldiers left them
To leach the poisons from the river From the boys / taught that this is what a man is
To rinse the honor of the hunter Of the brother / from the ghost of the paid destroyer
To undo the lynching of a village / nineteen days before they came for you

If it were possible to ground / the ghost Blackbird scanning the body of Memphis
with the spring thunder To soak & erase / all the generals' papers with rain
The reports The orders The cards in their hands / for the all-night game on the ramparts
vs. the people Locked out of our own house / 90-card stud Deuces wild

If these men had not been excavated / & lined up in rows Manufactured
Like popping a hole in an eggshell / & blowing out the insides
Land of the settlers' pride Behold / the clearcut gift of should we call it whiteness
No matter somebody's color Behold / how that imperial light shines through

Take this cup you must've been thinking / as the network of maimed boys
A machine in pieces assembles Maneuvers / into position Waiting

dear Martin did I tell you I spent the night / at the Peabody After driving from OK City
past the meth labs & Shawnee & Tecumseh Following / the river's course & the stockyard reek
Past Fort Smith "a strategic location" / "The rocky bluff allowed the soldiers"
"a commanding view" Now the overlook / named for the Trail of Tears

Past Little Rock Where Elizabeth Eckford / taught me what a real soldier might be
when I saw her picture & recognized / the white faces in the background
from the Massachusetts village where I started Where my mother / pulled my brother outside with his hair half cut
fifty Aprils ago when the barber / said you got what you deserved

Past Mayflower Past Palestine Late / & a long way from home My country staggered
with the Saturday night stupefacients 'tis of thee / Sweet unborn colony Of thee I sing
to the spill of the lights of Memphis & the dark / wisdoms of the garrulous archive Mississippi
At the fancy hotel the end of a wedding / Every entrance spilling black joy

& Sunday morning walked south to Beale Street / The shuttered church of a way out of no way
The Babylon song of Lemme mix up what's tried / to kill me & play it real pretty
Trash blown between 7th Avenue & Obispo / Notes saying Bring me here naked I still won't forget Tucked in bar grates Stuck in the gutters / Touch what you can't say & see if it might sing

Listening to what the papers said later / that today is not the time to dwell on such a thing
argue with what Otis Who showed up as a chauffeur / Laid down at Stax Tell me the truth
Lover's anguish song where nothing comes right / (Operation Strip the Roses) (Project Break the Lantern)
till it's told Till it wakes you Or else You got me / doing everything crazy you want me to

It's close now (Snuff the 11 stars) / (Tell them a wild animal killed him)
& you don't want to go to that last meeting / where the glory lifts you & keeps you up half the night
After catfish & tea & the Resurrection City blueprints / After laughing on the phone with your brother
With your mama they'd take as she played for the lord's prayer / Your daddy who touched the ceiling with joy when you were born

& was it just as the rooftop snipers / left camp ("So I knew the mechanics of the sharp-end pretty well")
that you followed a visitor down to her room / & said Senator We have so little time
If Beale Street could talk would it say some new gods' names / just before dawn in your voice & remember
the smell of the damp earth under the thicket / on the knoll across the street after the rain

I had a dream I crossed the river / with a handful of good living dirt to cover you
but someone had put up a checkpoint / or someone had taken you
& I dreamed the boy in the library in Havana / with you & Frederick Douglass on his shirt
& a dream I'd had before Where my children / ask How could you have permitted this

& I could hear Douglass telling a crowd / I appear this evening as a thief
& Harriet watching the people too many / for the soldiers Boarding the freedom boats
at Combahee One woman brought two pigs / she said A white one & a black one
Named de white pig Beauregard & de black pig Jeff Davis / We laughed & laughed & laughed

 Are you still saying Come break the law with me / into pieces we can shelter in & dance to & eat
Are you still trying to put your hands / on the gunboat & make it turn
Are you still trying to love somebody Even / the maimed Spec 4 in the bushes across the street
Walking with the tailor-mades & hand-me-downs / ("Thought the empire was coming apart at the seams")

Was it that April On someone's tape recorder / The first time I heard your bootlegged voice
Medicine for a white day in a storm-time of whiteness / Played everlasting Playing still Played real pretty


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